Yesterday I wrote about some data analysis I need to do. It turns out, there is quite a lot of analysis that needs to take place, along with fairly serious data management, especially as we start to relate MCAS scores with other data (SATs, special education testing, socioeconomic data, etc.). Having been a SAS programmer in a few former lives, SAS was an obvious choice for both the data manipulation and analysis.
I contacted SAS yesterday for a quote; mind you, I'd always used a copy supplied by an employer or school. While I knew that SAS wouldn't be cheap, I was in for serious sticker shock when I received the quote. For those of you who have never used it, SAS is the industry standard for statistical analysis, data management, and, more recently, business intelligence. It is divided into countless modules, most of which can be purchased a la carte. To keep costs down, I asked for a quote on just the basics: SAS Base (the required main module), STAT (containing countless statistical functions), and GRAPH (for making school committee-worthy graphics instead of standard line printer output from the other modules).
I only wanted a single user license; it's just me doing the actual analysis and SAS programmers aren't exactly a dime a dozen in small, rural school districts. Care to know the first-year costs? Just to get started, we were already well over $5000. SAS requires a yearly renewal, as well, running about 40% of the year 1 costs. I could just see the blank stares as I tried to justify those numbers to the school committee.
Of course, this is the land of free and open source software. Nothing free or open source can fully replace SAS; there's a reason it's an industry standard and SAS is the largest privately-held software company in the world. However, at those prices, I'm more than happy with good enough. So I downloaded R, a very serious open source take on the S language (implemented commercially as S-Plus), found brief tutorial, and will start banging away this week on a new programming language and interface. It's always good to learn something new, especially when something old costs as much as my budgets for my elementary schools.